Daniil Medvedev is bidding to win a maiden Australian Open title in Melbourne
Australian Open hopeful Daniil Medvedev is the 'villain' tennis is crying out for, according to some sections of the media Down Under, as the big Russian provides box office entertainment in pursuit of the title in Melbourne.
Firmly installed as tournament favorite after the ugly deportation of Novak Djokovic, second seed Medvedev's progress has thus far been relatively trouble-free at this year's showpiece at Melbourne Park.
A straight-sets victory in the opening round was followed by more challenging four-set wins against home hero Nick Kyrgios and awkward serve-and-volleyer Maxime Cressy.
For the most part, Medvedev has got the job done with ruthless, almost robotic efficiency on court, and the 25-year-old will be favored again in his quarterfinal meeting with talented Canadian youngster Felix Auger-Aliasime at Rod Laver Arena on Wednesday.
Daniil Medvedev has toyed with the crowd in Melbourne thus far. Getty Images
But that doesn't tell the whole story for Medvedev in Melbourne this year.
His performances have been accompanied by what could be described as a playful relationship with the Australian Open crowd which has veered from mutual trolling to a shared respect.
After an ice-cool Medvedev navigated a tricky assignment against Kyrgios in front of partisan support for the Aussie, the Russian described some members of the crowd in Melbourne as having a "low IQ" for making noise between first and second serves.
There was little evidence of a backlash when Medvedev faced Cressy this week, but even that encounter was not without controversy as a frustrated Medvedev exclaimed mid-match that his opponent's style was "boring" while branding the American "lucky."
Medvedev would later apologize, explaining he had merely wanted to "get in Cressy's head," but some observers - including Patrick McEnroe, brother of infamous tennis brat John - saw the Russian's antics as being in bad taste.
But with Djokovic out the picture - having triggered a crisis of diplomatic proportions in the process - some in the Aussie media are pointing to Medvedev as the 'villain' tennis needs to maintain interest.
Writing for Fox Sports, Alex Conrad has claimed that "the stage is set for a new villain to ignite the tennis world, at least on the court."
"Tennis could do with more characters, and even though it's unlikely we'll ever see a player of [John] McEnroe's ilk to come around again, Medvedev has history of brattish behavior," points out Conrad, listing the 6ft 6in Russian's past misdemeanors such as petulantly tossing coins at the umpire's chair following a defeat at Wimbledon in 2017 and waging a New York crowd war in 2019.
"Is it a good example for kids to look up to? Not quite," claims the article.
"But villains make for excitement, and for a sport that's perhaps becoming a little too vanilla at times, Medvedev could be the antihero the sport never knew it needed."
In reality, it's nothing new for Medvedev to be pitched as the "bad guy."
His running battle with the Flushing Meadows crowd on his way to the US Open final in 2019 was a major talking point, while elsewhere he's been prone to on-court meltdowns to rival any of his peers in recent years.
But the Russian has thrived on his crowd battles and increasingly seems able to channel his frustrations away from meltdowns and into motivation.
Occasionally brattish on court, he can be disarmingly charming in his post-match interviews just moments later.
In short, being painted as a villain by the likes of the Aussie media is unlikely to faze Medvedev; if anything, he can thrive on it as he pursues a second Grand Slam crown to add to his US Open title.